Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Right to Peaceably Assemble

In an act that stunned the country, an apparently unstable young man killed a judge, a nine year old girl, a Congressional staffer and others.  Several others, including Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, were seriously wounded at this public event she and her staffers held out side a grocery store in a shopping center.  This is a tragedy for our country.  However, as some may claim, this is not an act in isolation, as I see it.  This is an act whose flames were fanned by those in the Tea Party movement and by people such as Sarah Palin who suggested violent opposition if their side did not win.  She posted a map with gun site cross hairs over the districts of those opposing her Tea Party choices, including the Arizona District of Congresswoman Giffords.  She spoke of re-aiming and reloading.  Those in leadership of political movements have a requirement to act responsibly.  Interestingly, although Palin released a press statement decrying the violence, she did not retract her former call to action.

However, in a tragic presage of this event, during readings Thursday of the Constitution in the House of Representatives, Congresswoman Giffords was the member who read the First Amendment, (also mentioned in this column recently).  She was exercising this freedom with constituents when shot.  (Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.)

As a candidate, I have also greeted voters in public places and aided others with issues or held voter registration events in widespread shopping centers across this area.  This is an American rite -- meeting and greeting the public, exchanging ideas in open and polite discourse.   While discussion has usually been civil, at times although there was disagreement, it was in the context of a relevant debate. 

One major exception was a Town Meeting on Health Care and other topics held by Congressman Chris Van Hollen (MD 8th) last year at Montgomery College in Germantown.  Among the approximately 700 people in attendance were a few hundreds who indicated they represented the Tea Party movement.  Most were not from Montgomery County and several indicated that Chris was not their Congressman.  Many were rude and crude, ignored the rules of discussion established in the interest of fair access to questions and would not remain in their seats as requested by fire marshals who wanted aisles to have free access.  They shouted down speakers they disagreed with, spoke out of turn and attempted to control the message.  Were it not for the heavy security provided by the Montgomery County Police and Montgomery College Security, there might have been more disruption at this event.  This was here in civilized, Blue rimmed Democratic Montgomery County, not known for polarizing political events.

This climate, created by the opposition movement to the Affordable Care Act, (Healthcare) was fanned by those who opposed the President and funded by the right wing and business interests.  In the summer of 2009 and 2010, more events to inform and learn were held as Congress met with constituents.  Violence, armed attendees, and phrases such as death panels were used to control and stop real debate.  Many from the Tea Party reveled in their armed opposition.

The New York Times today discusses how the rhetoric does not occur in isolation:  Bloodshed Puts New Focus on Vitriol in Politics.

It is important to remember that sane people can see the difference between rhetoric and reality.  The psychotic do not and are often living in a world inhabited by their own demons.  They can easily be pushed over the edge by florid and irresponsible political statements.  Some, apparently such as the young man arrested here, are unable to accept any in positions of authority.

It is imperative that campaigns and elected officials understand that their remarks may fall on those who hear them literally and may move to act, especially when gun violence is encouraged.  It has been pointed out that the gun used here, and recently purchased, was obtained legally.

NBC's Meet the Press discussed this tragic event on Sunday's show:

Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO.) said: (in a paraphrase) "we are in a dark place in this country right now.  The hostility is here and is present now.  We come together from opposite sides in Congress, but we need to see this as a wake up call."

Republican Raul Labrador (ID), who was supported by Tea Party members, said we have to choose our words carefully and need to work together.

Democratic Congressman Debbie Wasserman Shultz of Florida mentioned that at a rally in her District, political opponents said they will use bullets if ballots do not work.  She spoke about pundits, shock jocks and others who must start to turn down the rhetoric.

All of these statements reflect the right words, the ones we should be hearing.  Let the responsible dialogue continue.  Let our responsible leaders reflect as Speaker Boehner has suggested and: "consider an attack on any of our members, as an attack on us all."   As a country let us all reject violent solutions to political disagreement, no matter how partisan.

Each of us who are politically active can put ourselves at similar events as in Arizona, most of us in Montgomery County know our representatives, so we can relate in a personal way here.  I am certain each of you reading this can share with me sincere feelings as I voice sympathy for all victims here along with their family members.  What should we do to keep this from happening again, in your opinion?


  1. Loretta Pleasant-JonesJanuary 9, 2011 at 7:13 PM

    Excellent post, Sharon. My hope is that it will be read by more than those of us already "in the choir". I worry that all of these calls for peaceful rhetoric are not reaching those who most need to hear them, such as those Tea Partiers who attended Van Hollen's County function. My guess is that they are not reading all of the articles in newspapers such as the Post or NYTimes, or on blogs such as yours. Instead, they are most likely listening to Rush or Sarah, who deny that they have anything to do with the poisonous climate that produced such violence. Thanks for a great blog, by the way.

  2. I agree Loretta; prudent people must speak out. Rational discussions must take precedence over the words of those who would tear down, rather than build our society.


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